I’ve known Justin for over thirty years. He was a high school football player in my first parish. His parents would bring him to Mass and I could tell he was just not “into it”. He didn’t join the Youth Group or really get involved in the parish. He kind of “put up” with Mass.
Over the years Justin went through a lot of tough times. But when he was 21 he finally realized that he was in huge trouble spiritually, emotionally and even physically. He went to his first AA meeting and, though he had a real struggle getting sober, he has been sober 30 years now. I like to tease him by saying “You’re much smarter than me, kid (he’s 51 now), you wised up long before me. I’ll be sober 29 years in October. We still keep in touch and laugh a lot together.
Last week he called me and needed to talk. I met him at a little café across the street from our local Fire Department. He told me that his cousin, who is a young man, is dying of brain cancer. It’s hitting him very hard, as his cousin has a wife and family and they’ve been very close for their entire lives. He was a little angry with God and angry with himself for being angry with God and frustrated and didn’t expect me to come up with any big answers, but just wanted me to understand. That’s all I could do anyway. I’m not a guru of emotional fixes. He told me he was leaving for Phoenix to be with his cousin. His job could wait, his wife and kids would be OK. He was going the next day. He said “What do I do when I get there, Padre?” I had no idea. But suddenly the big doors of the Fire Department opened and out came an ambulance and Fire Engine with lights and sirens.
I told Justin “You hear those sirens?” He said he did. I said “I know those guys. They’re trained paramedics and firefighters. They don’t know exactly what to do until they get to where they are going. They’ve had a lot of training, but each call is different. They can’t plan exactly what to do because they don’t know the exactly situation or the people involved. It could involve a person who’s had too much food and feels sick or it could be a little child who’s choking on a piece of meat. It could be a person who’s fallen and gashed their head or it could be someone with a heart attack. The person or the family could be belligerent or helpful. They don’t know until they get there. You won’t know what to do until you get there either. But you have some things going for you, Justin. You are a Baptized and Confirmed Catholic who has the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to use. You’ve suffered through pain and you have the wisdom and strength to go and just be of service, no matter what the situation is. You love your cousin and his wife and you can be a sign of love for them just by showing up.
He grinned. He said “So, should I take an ambulance and wear a helmet?” I said “Sure!” We laughed. He got the message. He didn’t need instructions on what to do, he needed encouragement just to go and do what he is best at, and that’s being of loving service.
Many Catholics need that encouragement. We often feel like we don’t and won’t know what to do unless we get some official training in how to serve. That’s true when it comes to Liturgy or Teaching Catechetics and things like that. But all of us can be of loving service in many other areas. We just need encouragement to use the Grace that God gives us all in loving ways with the people around us and the people in our parish, community, work or school.
Think of someone who could use a little love today. Plan a little in how you can make yourself available. Go with the right heart and be open to what happens. This is where little miracles of love happen. Follow Jesus into the situation (He’s already there) and ask Him how you can be of service and then just do what is in front of you.
Count on God’s Grace being there for you and to flow through you in any situation.